VALPARAISO | For the first time ever, three Duneland Athletic Conference gymnastics teams will compete at the IHSAA state meet.
Valparaiso (111.7) won its own regional Friday night as Portage (108.975) and Merrillville (108.9) rounded out the top three. With a change in the IHSAA regional format, three teams now advance from each of the three regionals.
“This is how it always should have been, because whenever we leave a DAC team at home, it’s always a team that could beat other regionals’ first-place score – let alone second or third,” said Merrillville coach Diane Roberts, whose Pirates advanced to their first state meet since 2003. “What we were thinking about is, if this were the same as last year in terms of the rule we wouldn’t be going. We would be .075 from going to state.
“We are thrilled to have this new rule and now when we get to state it’s going to be one tough meet.”
The host Vikings extended their state record with a 20th regional title, their 11th straight. Without any event champions, Valparaiso coach Lorie Cook is expecting even more from her team at Saturday's state meet in Muncie.
“We didn’t have a perfect meet yet,” Cook said. “We had good performances; any mistakes we made, we minimized. We’ll take it; we’re regional champs.”
Both Merrillville and Portage faced an uphill battle heading into the late rotations Friday night with Logansport holding a half-point lead over the DAC duo. But Logansport suffered low scores on the floor routine in the final rotation while Merrillville put together a 27.0 on the bars, edging into the top three.
“We (knew we would) have to do three bar routines that could possibly surpass (our gymnasts’) personal best,” Roberts said. “As it turned out, Logansport handled things for us because they did not get stupendous scores on floor.”
Defending state champion Portage had finished competition by the final rotation, watching with bated breath as Merrillville and Logansport competed.
“We were terrified,” Indians coach Karen Barcelli said. “Logansport is a great team.
“You do everything you can and then you just wait and see what happens. I think the gymnastic gods were kind of shining down on us at that point.”
Portage earned event wins from senior Danielle Solis on the vault (9.8) and the floor (9.7) as she finished third in the all-around (37.875).
Morgan Township sophomore Kylee Maxwell won the all-around (38.175) with a first-place finish on the bars (9.65). She was more excited, though, to have completed her beam routine cleanly after a fall last weekend cost her a shot at the all-around sectional title.
“I’m glad I made my back tuck on beam,” Maxwell said. “I fell at sectionals, so when I made it tonight I was really happy.”